Heat president Pat Riley wanted to keep Mike Miller, but will he settle for Greg Oden?
By CHRIS TOMASSONFS Florida
There is a limit to how much
Miami Heat owner Micky Arison will spend.
That became evident Tuesday when the Heat let guard Mike Miller go as part of the NBA's amnesty rule, a move that could save about $17 million next season in luxury tax. But is Arison at his limit now or is he willing to use the team’s $3.183 million taxpayer mid-level exception on free-agent center Greg Oden?
Heat president Pat Riley wanted to keep Miller, having said last month he didn't anticipate using the amnesty clause unless a "mandate" came from ownership. Evidently, one arrived as a more punitive luxury tax enters the NBA next season.
But Riley is very intrigued by Oden, the top pick in the 2007 draft who hasn't played in an NBA game since December 2009 due to knee problems. If Miami can land him, you've got to figure Riley would be happy going one of two as the Heat vie for a third straight title.
"I would think that from their end, it helps," Oden’s agent, Mike Conley Sr., told FOX Sports Florida about the Heat saving money by using the amnesty clause on Miller.
That's because Conley figures the Heat, armed with two open roster spots (three if Jarvis Varnado, who has a non-guaranteed contract, isn't kept), might just be willing to use that money on Oden. Conley wouldn't go so far Tuesday as to say Miami is the frontrunner for Oden, but he sure let it be known last Friday how great of a fit he believes the two sides would be.
"Obviously, they've got a need there (at center)," Conley told FOX Sports Florida. "It's a situation where they probably can't go out and get a top player (with the money they have), but they can take a chance on somebody like Greg and his upside. The exposure (of playing for the Heat) would be good for Greg. He could work his way back into his game. I think Miami is a good situation."
Conley said he's been texting Riley the past several days and has been talking with Andy Elisburg, an executive who is the Heat's salary-cap guru. That shows things are getting serious between the two sides, even if Conley said it still could be a few weeks before Oden signs.
Among others in the mix are San Antonio, Dallas, New Orleans and Sacramento. Considering Oden's history of knee injuries, it's understandable this isn't a quick process.
Riley often gets what he wants. He made it clear last month how intrigued he is with Oden.
"We will explore that and see where it goes because of the possibilities," Riley said of possibly signing Oden. "You go back to look at (Zydrunas) Ilgauskas. He had nothing but foot problems for about four years and everybody thought it was over. And the same thing happened with Kurt Thomas at the beginning of his career.
"There's been a lot of players young in their careers that have had chronic injuries (and then) it doesn't happen to them anymore. I think he’s such a young player and to be such a force, that you’d want to monitor him very closely."
Riley took a low-risk gamble two years ago by giving a guaranteed minimum contract to center Eddy Curry, and it didn't work out. But even if Oden will command more than the minimum, signing him still would not be that much of a gamble. It's one that also would have a much better chance of paying off big than the deal given the plodding Curry, who was 29 when he joined the Heat.
Oden is still just 25. No, he never will be a star, but he certainly could develop into a adequate true center.
The Heat, who start converted power forward Chris Bosh in the middle, sure could use one of those. They had problems in the Eastern Conference finals last spring against Indiana center Roy Hibbert.
Now they also have to contend with a big Chicago team that should have a healthy Derrick Rose, a Brooklyn outfit that is even bigger with Kevin Garnett joining Brook Lopez and a Houston team that could come out of the West after adding star big man Dwight Howard.
NBC Sports Radio analyst and former NBA coach Stan Van Gundy is best buddies with Miami coach Erik Spoelstra and believes he's bound for the Hall of Fame. But even Van Gundy said the Nets have the NBA’s best starting lineup and "have to be the favorites in the East."
"I don’t think they stand pat," Van Gundy said of the Heat, even though Riley has talked about mostly bringing back the same cast next season. "They didn't stand pat when they got Ray Allen (last summer) and Chris Andersen (last January). I think you'll see them look for another true center to play against the Roy Hibberts and the Tim Duncans (the Heat beat Duncan's San Antonio Spurs in seven games last month for their second straight crown)."
Will that center be Oden? It's hard to predict how much of an impact he could have next season, but, as Conley mentioned, it's not as if the Heat have the money to be choosy.
But how much is Arison willing to spend? If Miller's exit leads to the Heat landing Oden, Riley might end up not minding getting a "mandate."